Committee hears update on Animal Shelter funding contract

Published 5:02 pm Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Members of the County’s Financial Management Committee received an update on the contract between the county and the City of Elizabethton regarding funding of the animal shelter.

The Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter is a joint venture between Carter County and the City of Elizabethton. The two government entities previously signed a contract detailing that each would pay half of the operation expenses of the shelter.

In recent months, funding for the animal shelter has become the subject of heated debate among the governing bodies for the two entities.

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Following an in-depth review of shelter operations, Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey said the shelter was severely underfunded, and he requested an additional allocation from the County Commission. Some members of the Commission questioned if the City of Elizabethton would meet the 50-50 funding agreement laid out in the contract.

During the November meeting of the Commission, Elizabethton Mayor Curt Alexander said the city would meet its obligation for the fiscal year, but also hinted the city would seek to renegotiate the contract to pay a smaller percentage of the operating costs.

“We feel the city should not pay 50 percent and the county pay 50 percent when the city only represents 25 percent of the population,” Alexander told the Commission in November.

The county subsequently approved an additional $195,556.59 in funds for the shelter with the city picking up half that tab.

For the upcoming fiscal year, Humphrey has requested a total of $404,550.57 for the shelter’s budget, of which the City of Elizabethton would be expected to pay 50 percent.

During a budget workshop for the Elizabethton City Council earlier this week, the Council voted to cut funding to the animal shelter below the original amount allocated at the start of the 16-17 fiscal year rather than increasing it to meet the requested new budget. Council members elected to move their animal shelter funding down from approximately $127,000 down to $100,000.

Part of the contention between the two governments revolves around the contract and whether or not it auto-renewed. Also under debate is when the contract was executed — either 2011 or 2012 — which would impact what date the contract would auto renew.

On Wednesday morning, Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey discussed the matter with the Financial Management Committee and also asked County Attorney Josh Hardin to weigh in on the matter.

“My position is we have a contract. We need to honor that contract,” Humphrey said. “We operated for several years in a situation where we were severely underfunded.”

“As a government entity, we are not exempt from animal cruelty charges,” he added. “If we allow that shelter to revert to the way it was, that is what will happen.”

Hardin said it is also his opinion that the contract had renewed and the City of Elizabethton was locked in for an additional five years at 50 percent unless the contract was renegotiated and agreed to by both parties.

“There was no mutual agreement to amend it, so in my opinion it auto-renewed,” Hardin said. “One side can’t just vote on it and it’s done. It requires a mutual agreement.”

Hardin said the county has a “blue ink signed copy” of the contract, signed by both Humphrey and Alexander, recorded into the minutes of the Carter County Commission showing the contract was enacted in 2011. Records also show there was a later amendment made regarding ownership of the building, but nothing was negotiated relating to the date of the contract.

According to Hardin, the city has “somehow” acquired a copy of the contract where the original date was marked through, and a new date in 2012 was written over top of the original date. Other than the changed date, Hardin said the city’s copy mirrors the county’s official copy.